Biological processes offer to psychological explanations

What does an understanding of biological processes offer to psychological explanations? Support your argument with research evidence from Chapter 4 and/or Chapter 5 of Book 1. The study of psychology draws on knowledge from different scientific disciplines. One of them is biology. Biological structures and explanations are used to describe many psychological phenomena. Genes and their role in shaping of our mental characteristics and behaviour are the subject of both scientific and popular debate.

A reductionist viewpoint, which will be further described in the later part of this essay, attempts to interpret all psychological experiences purely in terms of processes occurring within the components of the brain (Toates, 2002). However, the modern biopsychology rejects this emphasis on low level analysis in favour of more multidimensional method of inquiry. In this approach, the impact of biology is not ignored but seen as a part of a bigger, more complex picture where biological processes co-exist and interact with social and environmental (physical) factors (Toates, 2002). The position and the role of biology within this complementary relationship and the relevance of biological knowledge for understanding of psychological phenomena will be explored in this essay.

Reductionism, postulated by the biologist Francis Crick (Toates, 2002), proposes that ‘any particular event or phenomenon can be understood simply by looking at the basic elements or parts which make it up'(Hayes, 2000, p. 16). For example, psychological processes can be explained as caused by actions of genes, hormones or any other low-level entities. There exists, however, an opposing view that this kind of analysis is not sufficient to fully explore the true nature of all psychological matters.

This is where the principle of emergent property comes into use (Toates, 2002). This principle refers to a characteristic of a system that derives from the interaction of its parts and is not apparent or inherent in the parts considered in isolation. A traffic jam is an example of such a system where a group of individual vehicles operating in a certain environment contribute to the creation of a new phenomenon, mechanisms of which cannot be related to the way a motor or a braking device or a speed limit work.

To concentrate specifically on the interaction of biology and the environment, the emergent property concept can be illustrated by the study which involved non-human primates and the drug amphetamine (Cacioppo and Berntson, 1992, cited by Toates, 2002). When injected with the drug, animals high in the social hierarchy acted in even more dominating manner, whereas the ones low in the social order became more submissive. The explanation of this inconsistent behaviour was only uncovered when the behaviour was examined in the social context. In the view of these findings it is obvious that the understanding of biological processes can be better utilised by psychologists when these processes are taken in consideration not on their own and as individual, disconnected influences but as interdependent components of a system.

This kind of reciprocal interaction of factors can be observed in many areas of psychological interest. Study of clinical depression is one of them. Depression is sometimes believed to have a genetic origin (Toates, 2002). Studies of isolated traditional family communities, like the Amish in the USA, have shown that manic depression runs in families (Hayes, 2000). On the basis of these studies, a claim about genetic inheritance of depression has been made.

However, as Hayes (2000) suggests, this kind of organic causes of depression are questionable for two reasons. Firstly, the diagnosis frequently relies on accounts and memories about people who are no longer alive. These accounts often tend to ignore the ordinary, quiet events and pinpoint the intense and upsetting ones, thus generally becoming exaggerated. Secondly, factors attributed to biology often can be social in origin. It is very possible for children to see, consciously or not, certain extreme emotional responses of their parents as an appropriate type of behaviour and subsequently adopt it themselves. Even presuming the organic root of depression, individuals with suspected high risk of developing it may not inevitably do so as positive life circumstances and influence of others may prevent this from happening . Conversely, those with high genetic bias towards depression may experience it due to many stressful life events (Toates, 2002).

Brown and Harris (1978, cited by Hayes 2000), who studied a large sample of London housewives, found that development of depression can be influenced by a number of social and cultural factors, such as social isolation or lack of emotional support. It could be argued that we can judge whether depression of an individual is in-born or environmentally-based by looking at their ability to recover from it when the negative external influences have been withdrawn. However, as Seligman (1975, cited by Hayes 2000) argues, depressed individuals often display the effects of learned helplessness where as a result of prolonged exposure to the situation which they were unable to change, they fail to take any action even when their circumstances have changed.

Clinical neuropsychology is an area of psychology with a great scope for benefiting from biological and physiological knowledge. Clinical neuropsychologists try to draw conclusions about how the brain functions by, amongst other methods, using information from people who have experienced brain damage (Hayes, 2000). One of the most famous cases of an accidental brain damage has been that of railway worker, Phineas Gage, in 1848 (Toates, 2002). Gage suffered a dramatic injury as a large piece of tamping iron had blown right through the frontal lobe section of his brain. Remarkably, Gage has survived but his personality was subsequently changed very significantly.

The Gage’s case has been re-evaluated as the more recent research revealed an evidence about the role of the frontal lobes in controlling of emotional expression. Moniz (1936, cited by Hayes 2000) observed that chimpanzees who had undergone surgical removal of the frontal lobes have become more passive and obedient. Subsequently, he suggested that these areas of the brain are responsible for aggression and socially undesirable behaviour.

Knowledge about many other mental functions, such as learning, memory or language acquisition has been advanced thanks to the techniques available within the brain studies. These studies are, however, a very tricky activity, as the brain cannot be observed directly and it is a very complex structure where many different parts work together to produce a certain effect. Here again the impact of the person’s social and physical experience cannot be ignored.

As it can be seen from the above examples, knowledge about biological processes, if considered in isolation, can be somehow limited in providing conclusive psychological explanations. Research findings which originally encouraged seemingly straightforward reductionist claims prompted further questions to which answers were not always searched within the realm of biology. Although the emphasis of this essay has been to evaluate the role of biological knowledge in supporting psychological explanations, it was impossible to achieve this without exploring the wider context of the two-way interaction of biological and social influences. The relationship between these influences is reciprocal and the role of biological knowledge can be only truly estimated from the perspective of its complementary character.

Discuss biological explanation of depression. (25 marks) In order for depression to be diagnosed the person needs to show at least five of these symptoms everyday for a minimum of two weeks. These clinical characteristics for depression can be emotional …

There is a key distinction between major depression (unipolar depression) and manic depression (bipolar depression). According to DSM-IV, major depressive episodes require 5 symptoms to occur nearly every day for a minimum of two weeks. These symptoms include emotional symptoms …

Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder as it often involves a loss of contact with reality and a lack of self insight. Schizophrenia has a large number of clinical characteristics. Some of these are Thought control, delusions of passivity, control and …

The importance of Biology within the field of psychology has been and continues to be widely debated. Some scientists such as Francis Crick, believe that explanations for psychological differences can only be found by the means of studying the biology …

David from Healtheappointments:

Hi there, would you like to get such a paper? How about receiving a customized one? Check it out